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Emotional Ronnie Montrose Tribute Concert Leaves San Francisco Audience ‘Unglued’

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

The life of trailblazing guitarist Ronnie Montrose was celebrated by the musical family and friends who knew him best on Friday night with a San Francisco area tribute concert which featured performances from a star-studded lineup of guests — including alumni from both of Montrose’s best known projects, Montrose and Gamma.

The surviving original members of Montrose — Sammy Hagar, bassist Bill ‘Electric’ Church and drummer Denny Carmassi took the stage with Hagar’s Chickenfoot bandmate Joe Satriani subbing in on guitar, and delivered a powerful, well-received set that featured Montrose staples like ‘Space Station No. 5,’ ‘Bad Motor Scooter’ and of course, ‘Rock Candy.’

Sharing memories of the band’s early days and running through the group’s classic tracks with his old bandmates stirred “a lot of memories up here,” as Hagar put it from the stage. The quartet of players shared a sweaty embrace after performing ‘Connection’ by the Rolling Stones (covered on Montrose’s second album) with smiles all around.

Journey guitarist Neal Schon told Ultimate Classic Rock that the sold-out Regency Center came “unglued” during the evening of music, which he opened, sharing the stage with Styx bassist and former Bad English bandmate Ricky Phillips, Montrose keyboardist Ed Rock and Schon’s former Journey bandmate Steve Smith on drums. This line-up performed two of Ronnie’s signature tracks from the 1978 ‘Open Fire’ release, including the title track.

“‘Open Fire’ was an instrumental that Ronnie and Steve Smith did on a tour that we were all on together in 1978. It was Van Halen, their very first tour, Ronnie Montrose with Steve Smith and then Journey, was the bill. So Ronnie opened [his set] with ‘Open Fire’ every night with Steve Smith. I learned that the other day and then put my own swing on it and added a few sections to it and they just ate it up. We jammed like monsters.”

The veteran guitarist also paid a personal tribute to Montrose’s legacy, performing one of his own songs, ‘Prayer For Peace.’ Schon said he was really happy to be part of the event and he knows that “Ronnie was smiling, so I felt really good about it.”

It was an evening to celebrate the talents of one of the Bay Area’s own, rather than mourn. Tesla lead singer Jeff Keith might have summarized it best when he said “we’re here to share the love.”

According to Schon, the entire evening of music was recorded, both audio and video, so there might be a potential release to look forward to. One thing that is definitely confirmed is the forthcoming release of a live DVD from Ronnie Montrose, his first ever concert DVD release, which was recorded only a few weeks before his death.

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